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Letter 7231

Darwin, C. R. to Weir, J. J.

14 June [1870]


Asks about birds erecting feathers when enraged or frightened. Interested in examples of expression in birds and animals.

Tells of the sheldrake dancing on tidal sands to make worms come out.


Down. | Beckenham | Kent. S.E.

June 14th

My dear Sir

As usual I am going to beg for information. Can you tell me whetherany Fringillidæ, or Sylviadæ erect their feathers when frightenedor enraged?f2 I want to show that this expression is common to all ormost of the families of Birds— I know of this only in the Fowl, Swan,Tropic-bird, Owl, Ruff & Reeve, & Cuckoo—f3 I fancy that I rememberhaving seen nestling birds erect their feathers greatly when lookinginto nests, as is said to be the case with young cuckoos. I shdmuch like to know whether nestlings do really thus erect their feathers?I am now at work on expression in animals of all kinds & birds;& if you have any hints I shd be very grateful for them, & you havea rich wealth of facts of all kinds.—

Any cases like the following:the sheldrake pats or dances on the tidal sands to make the sea-wormscome out; & when Mr. St John’s tame sheldrake came to ask for theirdinners, they used to pat the ground; & this I shd call anexpression of Hunger & impatience.—f4

How about the Quagga case?f5

I am working away as hard as I can on my book,f6 but good Heavenshow slow my progress is.— I hope that ⟨you⟩ are well.—

Believe me | Yours very sincerely | Ch. Darwin.

Armacost Library, University of Redlands



The year is established by the relationship between this letter andthe letter from J. J. Weir, 27 June 1870.
Fringillidae is the family of finches; Sylviidae is the family ofOld World warblers.
See Expression, pp. 97–100. The red-tailed tropic bird mentionedby CD in Expression as Phaeton rubricauda is now Phaethonrubricauda; the ruff (male) and the reeve (female) mentioned by CDas Machetes pugnax are now Philomachus pugnax.
CD recounted this story in Expression, pp. 47–8. Charles St Johnreported the behaviour of the sheldrakes (Tadorna tadorna) in StJohn 1849.
See letter from J. J. Weir, 17 March 1870.
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